The man who earned the moniker “Scotty from Marketing” by his near obsession with spin over substance has apparently had a moment of deep sincerity.
One conveniently recorded and uploaded to YouTube for all to see.
Scott Morrison’s speech to the biennial conference of the Australian Christian Churches ignited a debate about the role of religion in government (hint: it has no role in government) but the one thing missing from all the back and forth was scepticism.
Even people least likely to take the Prime Minister at his word seemed strangely willing to believe this speech was a moment of deep sincerity.
If you take a firm grip on your intestinal fortitude and listen to the full 23-minute speech, there’s very little to distinguish it from any other Prime Ministerial waffling.
It’s full of passionate intensity about nothing specific, a few reminders that it’s not his job to do anything, and some catch phrases likely to appeal to his audience.
In this case, God is good, social media is evil, and communities will save us from the menacing trend of young people identifying with communities.
Why do we believe this speech was a moment of deep sincerity, distinct from so many other of his speeches that seem designed only to fluff the deeply held chauvinisms of his audience?
Listening to it, it seems obvious that this speech, like all his others, was motivated by his deeply held conviction that his audiences should always fetch up thinking, “How good is Scott Morrison?”
A fuzzy idea that he’s likeable is preferable to concrete actions or policies.
Do we really believe this speech was not war-gamed with his political advisors? Knowing it would ignite the people who were never going to vote for him anyway and the backlash would engender sympathy from anyone who feels their dogmas are vilified by non-believers.
Do we really think the man who prides himself on the unearned title of Master of Marketing saw no political benefit in a declaration of faith?
Dee Madigan, Creative Director of Campaign Edge, is an old hand at political campaigning, albeit from the Labor side.
She says: “I think [Morrison] knows the reaction from the left will help his base. I don’t think his base are particularly comfortable with the laying of the hands, devil in social media stuff, but they like anything that inflames the left. His politics are tactics based on division.”
No doubt the decision to treat Australian citizens trying to return from India like criminals was designed to appeal to the people he thinks are his base, rather than the ones commanded by their messiah to love their neighbours as they love themselves.
Maybe it’s just not his job to remember that Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jewish anarchist, not a rich white man created in Morrison’s image.
This is not to suggest that Morrison is insincere in his adherence to his stated religion. He has, as we all do, the right to whatever faith sustains him and it is not my job to question something so deeply personal.
It is, however, my job to apply a critical lens to the public pronouncements of Australia’s Prime Minister – to question whether Morrison has a God-given right to use a taxpayer funded plane to fly to a Church conference.
It is my job to consider on whether that nebulous speech had a political agenda – to parse his words for meaning and intent, in the same way journalists question his intent behind telling the Business Council of Australia that the “animal spirit of capitalism” will help us achieve net zero emissions without actually setting a goal of net zero emissions or making any specific plans to achieve it.
Or ask the purpose for throwing a bone to blue collar and regional voters by sneering at those in inner-city wine bars, while standing in the grand ballroom of the Fullerton Hotel to promise executives from Australia’s largest corporations that tax would play no part in government spending on climate change.
When you are the Prime Minister of Australia, the intent and perceived sincerity of every speech matters.
Which makes it difficult to understand why the political purpose of this speech was not interrogated with the same rigour we critique every other speech made by leader with a one-seat majority facing a tight election and an untrusting electorate.
Doing unto others as he would have them do unto him might work, at least that way he’d be doing something instead of just talking about something and doing nothing
Jane Gilmore is a freelance journalist with a strong interest in campaigning against violence against women. She also founded The King’s Tribune